Indigo buntings must be the deepest and brightest blue of all the birds we are likely to see on the Island. A close-up view of a male in good lighting will inevitably invoke a gasp or a “Wow!” from the viewer.
Their song is quite spectacular too. Books describe it in various ways: a musical series of warbling notes, with each phrase given in pairs, or as a lively, high, sharp, strident urgent warble with phrases at different pitches. Of course these verbal descriptions do not do the song justice.
Fire fire, where where, here here, there there, put-it-out put-it-out, quickly quickly.
Well, that is how I learned the song. Once you hear the song, you will agree that this is as good a description as is possible.
We have these brilliantly colored buntings every April and May, on their spring migration, when storms carry them too far north and they come to bird feeders because their natural foods — insects and seeds — are scarce. They may congregate with orioles, tanagers, and grosbeaks at the feeders, providing a welcome splash of color to the late-winter and early-spring dullness.
They are abundant throughout much of New England, but are only present in small numbers in scattered locations across the Island. They avoid nesting in urban areas and other areas intensively used by people, choosing instead to live in shrubby areas, including old fields and roadsides. Most of the areas I know of are off the beaten path on private property, so I was excited to find them at Thimble Farm on one of my weekly Saturday morning birding tours.
Look and listen for them. Maybe they are more abundant than we think.
The week’s sightings are dominated by our nesting birds, which is not surprising since the spring migration is basically over and the southbound fall migrants will begin appearing in early July (wow, that is next week.) There are lots of baby birds around, and any seemingly abandoned baby bird you find most likely has its parents nearby; please leave it alone and watch it from a distance so you can see the parent feed it.
Lanny McDowell has been hearing a willow flycatcher singing in the shrubby thickets adjacent to the Mill Pond in West Tisbury. He also reports a probable Acadian flycatcher off North Road west of Waskosim’s Rock.
Both Lanny McDowell and Tim Church report black-bellied plovers, common, roseate and least terns and a black skimmer at Sarson’s island on June 24. Is there a pair of skimmers nesting somewhere around Sengekontacket Pond?
Emily Reddington of Felix Neck and the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Coastal Waterbird Program surveyed the terns nesting across the Island over the weekend. She reports a remarkable 482 pairs of least terns nesting on Little Beach in Edgartown. This may be the largest colony in the state this year. Colonies this large have occurred on the Vineyard maybe five times since we started keeping track of them in the late 1970s.
Other least tern colonies include 40 pairs at Eastville Point Beach and 25 pairs at Edgartown Great Pond. And 88 pairs of common terns are nesting at Haystack Island in Sengekontacket Pond.
Larry Hepler reports that there are four osprey chicks in the nest near Black Point Pond.
The whippoorwills are present daily at the house of Tom Rivers. Their chanting wakes him up every morning.
Granted they are not birds (maybe they are bird food), but Dale Carter reports the first fireflies of the season on Monday, at her house on Chappaquiddick. She says they have appeared much earlier this year than in the past.
The bird sightings are a bit sparse this week., so as we get ready for July and the beginning of the southbound migration of birds, please remember to call in your bird sightings to the hot line at 508-627-4922. We cannot write about it if we do not know about it!
Robert Culbert is an ecological consultant and bird tour leader living in Vineyard Haven.